Purpose At Work: Lessons From A Footwear-making Startup Neeman's is known for launching merino wool shoes

By Prabhjeet Bhatla

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Industrialization is compulsory to increase productivity, development, and job opportunities. But it has side effects too. Air pollution, water contamination, toxic gas, plastic use, and others are the major drawbacks of big industries and manufacturing units.

But there is good news now. People are aware of these hazardous effects on the environment. And, they are choosing environmentally friendly methods for production processes. Neeman's is one such footwear brand that has become the first Indian shoe brand to use a natural, renewable, and sustainable merino wool fiber in its shoes. Founded in 2017, the Hyderabad-based footwear firm has created a buzz by involving environmentally friendly fiber in its shoe manufacturing process.

As per the footwear industry report, India ranks second in terms of footwear production globally, while it occupies the third position if we talk about footwear consumption. India produces 9 per cent of the global shoe production, while it consumes around 2.1 billion units of footwear annually.

In the footwear premium category, India has an 8 to 10 per cent share of the total $8 billion markets, as per an Assocham study. Neeman's claims that the Indian footwear market size is worth $600-650 million.

Neeman's, known for launching merino wool shoes, was conceptualized in the US, but the journey in India started in 2017. Before that, co-founders Taran Chhabra and Amar Preet Singh took their time to learn shoe-making and figure out how to select suitable raw materials. They traveled to different shoe manufacturing hubs worldwide to learn about shoes and were surprised to know that most shoes were made with materials that were not eco-friendly.

The USP of the brand lies in the fact that it is India's first brand in footwear that uses natural and renewable merino wool from Australia, plant-based castor bean oil, recycled rubber, and waste paper in making shoes.

Neeman's founder and chief executive officer Chhabra in a conversation with Entrepreneur India said, "Being a shoe enthusiast, I discovered a significant gap in the segment: footwear was either stylish or comfortable. So, I was determined to fulfill this void and craft footgear that was both snuggly, stylish and also, sustainable, high-quality, and all-day and anywhere wear. Hence, I did my research, created a strategy, and got to work to bring to life Neeman's, a sustainable shoe brand that is one-shoe for all your needs."

Neeman's also offers classic sneakers crafted with cotton and eco-flips, which utilize recycled fabrics. Its newly launched collection, ReLive Knits, reimagines the traditional sneaker in terms of innovation, technology, and sustainability and helps us challenge the status quo in the market. ReLive Knits is crafted from 100 per cent recycled PET bottles. Each pair is manufactured using 8 recycled bottles and the company has successfully recycled over 1 million bottles so far.

The company raised $1 million of funding in its Seed round from Anicut Capital. This August, it received $2.7 million funding from Sixth Sense Ventures as part of its Series A funding round. The platform will be directing the recent influx of funds towards intensive product development, launching Neeman's in international markets, expanding categories, and further strengthening its commitment to the planet by championing the cause of sustainability through research and development of eco-friendly technologies.

The company is in its initial years, and funding will only help them speed their plans of making comfortable shoes with eco-friendly yarns. The platform aims to keep getting newer, innovative, and sustainable products for a better planet.

The company's distribution strategy from the beginning has been direct-to-consumer (D2C). Their customers can choose to purchase from their website, social media, or other online platforms like Amazon, Nykaa, Flipkart, and CRED. So, for now, the platform has been said to be happy with D2C, though in times to come, they may look at an omnichannel presence.

"It all begins with the idea, product, or service and filling an existent gap for a startup. So, we conducted thorough market research to understand the market needs and where our idea would fit. Our next step was to create a high-quality product and then a meticulous marketing strategy that would highlight our USP and showcase the need of our product to the customer. Once we got that right, there was no looking back," commented Chhabra, while stating the kind of research that has gone into the establishment and its procedures.

He believes that the footwear segment in India is ever-evolving. With no scarcity of brands, people are spoiled for choices. However, in this scenario, the company differs by being a player that is not a fast trend company but a value-driven entity. The company has been seen saying that their shoes can be used throughout the season and are an everywhere wear. This means one pair of Neeman's is fulfilling multiple requirements of the customers. As far as competition is concerned, players will keep coming, but their differentiator will always be to bring India a unique fabric that is sustainable, comfortable, and trendy.

The pandemic has caused upheaval with almost all businesses, and the sneaker startup was no different. Last year, like many, they too saw a dip in their sales. However, rather than worrying about it, they used their time in enhancing their customer experience. They made their existing products better, improved their internal processes, delivery mechanisms, and prepared for the future by focusing on product development.

"We plan to launch Neeman's in international markets, expand categories, and strengthen our commitment to the planet. In addition, we will continue being a champion of sustainability and make footwear with eco-friendly technologies," Chhabra further explained his future plans for the startup.

Prabhjeet Bhatla

Former Staff

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